Muse on Allen offers a surprising outpost of fine dining in a street better known for BYOs and RTDs. It also has a comprehensive cocktail list, so we began with a passable whiskey sour and Sazerac before tackling the menu.
Sampling a representative selection of dishes between two of us looked a daunting assignment, until we saw the ‘Taste of Muse’, which offered small bites of most of the starters. So we ordered that to begin with, and the halloumi entrée, because, well, because it’s halloumi.
Before that arrived, the charmingly incomprehensible French waiter brought us an amuse bouche of cold spiced carrot soup in shot glasses, which was a fortuitous match for the Rockburn Spitfire Gewürztraminer we had selected. The presentation of the tasting platter was somewhere between minimalist and rustic, with small morsels arranged on a wooden slab. The ceviche tasted like fish without being fishy, if that makes sense, and the crispy squid had a firm but not rubbery texture. The beef tartar was so mild it threatened to be overwhelmed by the accompanying avocado mousse, but the same couldn’t be said for the pork rilletes or the chicken pâté. The former was winningly assertive; the latter as smooth and light as parachute silk.
Grilled halloumi was served with cubes of peach, sweetcorn purée, and pretty pickled Chioggia beets. We had suspected that these would be too mild for halloumi, which is normally paired with more piquant accompaniments such as citrus and mint, but the combination proved to be subtly satisfying.
And then it was time for meat. The lamb dish involved three different cuts: saddle, tenderloin and braised cheeks, and as well as the usual accomplices (minted peas and fondant potato) it was served in ham hock jus. This was mostly tasty if unspectacular, though the cheeks were gloriously sticky little nuggets. Angus beef ribeye was also a fairly safe choice, though the savoury oyster mushroom jus gave it a lift, and cashew nut beignets made a bold textural contrast. Servings were generous enough that we couldn’t make much of a dent in our fries, and we barely touched our fennel remoulade, but that may be because it was inedibly salty, even to my taste.
We finished with ice creams and sorbets, which were pleasant if forgettable, and the only detail that stuck in my memory was that they were served on a bed of chocolatey crumbs. ‘Pleasant if forgettable’ would be a fair description of the decor, too: dark wood, exposed brick, a minimalist room divider; in other words, a formula for urban chic circa 1998. Given a lively atmosphere, this wouldn’t have mattered, but with only one other couple in the room, it felt uncomfortably bare.[warning]
Address: 16 Allen Street, Te Aro
Phone: 04 384 1181
Cost: Entrées $17–19; mains $36–38
Open: Tue–Sat 5:30pm–late
Food: Modern New Zealand
Drink: Tuatara APA $10; Waipara Hills Gewürztraminer $11/glass, $45/bottle[/warning]
In summer I often find it perverse to drink piping-hot coffee, but asking for an iced coffee usually results in the sort of frothy lactose-fest that looks like it should have sparklers in it. A few coffee houses have started offering cold brew, but True Brew serves nothing but. Not only is it more refreshing, but the slow, cold steeping makes for lower acids and a fresher expression of the fruit overtones in the single-origin beans. You can take bottles away, or sip at the bar of this surprisingly sunny nook up in an obscure corner of the Grand Arcade.
Address: 16 Willis Street, Wellington Central
Phone: 021 285 2727
Open: Wed–Sat 8am–4pm[/info]